7 Essential Strength Training Movements

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For beginners, nothing is more intimidating than the free weight area of the gym.  Dumbbells and barbells don’t have instruction manuals, which unfortunately leads most people to gravitate to the  weight machines and the cardio area in the gym.  It can be especially intimidating to women, as they typically avoid this section fearing becoming “manly” and “musclebound”.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  The great thing about these movements is that they are natural and functional movements that we perform everyday.  Our goal is take these basic movements which incorporate the entire body to get big results and modify the program based on progress.  Notice that these movements will occur in pairs consisting of a “pushing” and a “pulling” movement.  “Pushing” movements will typically target the muscles on the front (anterior) of the body (chest, thighs) while the “pulling” movements target the rear (posterior) of the body (back, hamstrings).  These movements also utilize the core muscles (abdominal and lower back) for stabilization during the exercise.

Woman performing a front squat.

  • Lower Body Push – The lower body push, or the Squat, is the king of all exercises.  Standing up under a load strengthens the entire body and promotes phenomenal changes in body composition and strength.  It can be as simple as a bodyweight squat all the way up to barbell squats.  Entire books have been written on the squat and how to squat correctly.  An issue for most people is limited hip and ankle flexibility which compromises their squat form.  This can only be improved through performing repetitions with correct form.  The movement begins by dropping your butt just like you are sitting down.  It is important to keep the keep the knees from tracking over the toes.  Here is a post about building muscle which links to some great resources for technique.
  • Lower Body Pull – Bend over and pick something up from the floor.  Congratulations, you have just performed a lower body pull or a deadlift.  If the squat is the king of all exercises, the Deadlift is right there on the throne with it.  The Deadlift requires the entire body to work together to generate power to pull the object from the ground.  There are many variations but the barbell Deadlift should be a cornerstone of your exercise program.
  • Horizontal Push – The act of pushing something away from your body or pushing your body away from something.  The most familiar forms of this exercise are the Push-up and the Bench Press.  At some point in our life we have all done a push-up.  It is a fantastic upper body developer, strengthening the muscles of the chest, triceps, and shoulders.  It also requires contraction of the core  and upper back to maintain stability.
  • Horizontal Pull – Pull an object toward your body.  These exercises are commonly known as “rows” and utilize the muscles of the back along with the biceps and forearms.  The core must also contract to stabilize the body.  It can be as simply as lying down, reaching up and grasping something, and pulling your body up.  To perform with barbells or dumbbells, bend over with your eyes facing forward and pull the weights toward you.  It is very important not to “hunch over” but bend over keeping your lower back strong.
  • Vertical Push – We all have pressed (pushed) something overhead, be to put something on a high shelf or simply raising our hand in class as kids.  A bodyweight vertical press (handstand push-up) requires outstanding strength relative to weight.  The majority of people will need to utilize dumbbells and barbells for this movement.  This exercise will develop the shoulders and also engage the triceps.  The smaller stabilizer muscles around the shoulder will also be strengthened as well as the core muscles.
  • Vertical Pull – The most common form of this exercise is the pull-up or chin-up.  This exercise requires the entire back to contract along with the biceps and forearms.  The entire core also contracts to keep the body stable.  Some modifications to build your strength for pull-ups include utilizing a partner or by placing your feet on a chair.
  • Dip – The dip is a vertical push movement except the direction of force is down instead of overhead.  The dip engages the chest, triceps, and shoulders with shifting emphasis dependant upon the angle of the movement.  The dip is typically performed using some form of parallel bars or objects parallel to each other.  For beginners, utilize a partner or a machine that can assist with the dips or just place two chairs side by side.

Where To Go From Here

Building total body strength is the foundation of a successful exercise program.  Even if you must begin with a simple bodyweight circuit and work up to complete resistance training workout, the benefits are numerous.  You will be amazed at how quickly your strength and body composition will improve.  Don’t be afraid to lift heavy weights.  Good things happen when you pick up heavy stuff!  Got a question about incorporating these movements?  Leave it in the comments below and don’t forget to subscribe to the PhysiqueRescue Newsletter for updates and exclusive content!





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